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Poetry as therapy

I meet and greet all new members of WOL and (obviously) notice how many of them state that they have/are suffering from one form of mental illness or another.

Similarly, within the comments section of many members poems or in comments about other poets work, the word therapeutic or cathartic occurs with frequency.

So what is it actually about poetry that helps in these cases? How does the help manifest itself? For example is it the anonymity? The presence of like-minded souls etc?

Just what is it about poetry that helps?
Wed, 15 Aug 2018 09:57 am
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An interesting point Graham.
I discovered poetry in 1994, I had issues and demons - I had periods of squatting (some good, some not) and homelessness, had big problems with alcohol and felt lonely and alone.....
Then I heard Simon Armitage on the radio and I couldn't believe my ears, I bought his book that he had been plugging and I couldn't believe my eyes. poetry became accessible and I just started writing.
For me writing became a way of actually facing up to my issues, I was able to look down on the page and see them in another light. I wrote lots, the vast majority has gone now, but I believe it was one of the things that helped to turn my life around (not the only thing, but one that helped).
Wed, 15 Aug 2018 05:14 pm
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That’s good to hear Darren!
Wed, 15 Aug 2018 05:21 pm
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Well said Ferris, if I had anymore to add it would be on those lines.
You are spot on about WOL providing a valid outlet. I would be content knowing that the site gives people an opportunity to read my thinking, it is even better when I get the odd flower-like and positive comment or two.
Wed, 15 Aug 2018 07:48 pm
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In fact I will go further and add, that it may not be coincidence that my increased output has coincided with finding this great site!
Wed, 15 Aug 2018 07:49 pm
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Big Sal

Although I don't suffer from any illness (as far as I know), I originally started writing to gain a peace of mind that was impossible to do when simply talking to people. I have many anger issues, and writing them out in rhyme and metre helped through many tough patches - like Darren said. It is immensely therapeutic, even if no one but me reads them I know I can express it and feel better having done so. I figured I could be a mediocre rapper or a great poet, and I chose the latter. Glad Ferris and Darren both chose this path as well, they both have some great pieces well worth the read for anyone reading this. Worthy discussion Graham.?
Thu, 16 Aug 2018 03:36 pm
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Hello All,

I'm new here and wanted to jump in on this topic. Thanks Graham for posting such a great question.

I agree with what's been said here. Writing in general is extremely therapeutic when you feel silenced by situations/people. Sadly for me, I've felt like I had no voice to speak up and out about the wrongs I've seen/experienced. I use poetry to shed light on issues that I want changed, whether personal or in general.

It's a great way to help you see what's on your mind if you're confused about something. Often times, we may not realize why we are angry or bothered. As the pen begins to flow and we read it back, we'll have a clue.

Lastly, writing poetry is just fun! It helps you hone in on your skills, you meet like-minded poets and learn from them along the way.

Sun, 30 Sep 2018 07:33 pm
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Deepika Sehwag

Hi Everyone

I'm new to this blog site and also an amateur when it comes to putting my thoughts into words.

A while back I was going through a depression kind of state. Whenever I tried to talk to someone or tried to express myself they'd end up saying "You started with your essays again??". Moreover, no one had enough time to spare to listen.

During that time when I used to have all these mixed feelings and hundreds of thoughts running in my mind and failing to talk to someone. I randomly started to write down my thoughts and the way I felt at that moment.
I didn't know or expect it would help me in any way. But actually, it did.

It gives me relief to put down my thoughts and feelings into words.
Mon, 1 Oct 2018 05:18 am
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Big Sal

Welcome Poetikaly and Deepika. Hope your stay is an informative and enjoyable one. Writing poetry is one of the best medicines for mental distress if utilized correctly. Here's hoping you both learn something while being here, and in turn continue to hone your craft of putting words to paper (or screen).

Some great stuff to read here if you know where to look. ?
Mon, 1 Oct 2018 06:27 am
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<Deleted User> (18980)

My story is much simpler than others. I think rhymes and write them down rather than just try to keep them in my head. Having written them down I work them up into a finished product, and at this point it is satisfying to have an outlet like WOL so that I can effectively publish my work. I don't go to open mic nights and I don't hanker after publishing my work in the usual way, so WOL is my only way of sharing with a wider audience.

So I am extremely grateful to WOL.
Mon, 1 Oct 2018 09:10 pm
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Thanks Big Sal. Hello Deepika and Brian.
Tue, 2 Oct 2018 03:11 am
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Hello everyone! I'd like to contribute my opinion as well! Excellent topic! I agree, poetry is definitely
therapeutic. Any form of art really.
My father once told me that art is the imaginary solution to a problem than in real life can't be solved. I agree. Some times art is an imitation of life. Some times it is the result of the search for beauty; an effort to overcompensate, even. A rebuttal to life's harshness and ugliness. And sometimes; it can't be helped; it's the reflection of that ugliness. When I started writing, I was going through a life threatening condition. I wrote because I needed to get the dark, bad stuff out of my head. I was litteraly writing things away. Just for myself. But as i tried to cope, I observed life and people and I saw that everybody struggles with one thing or another. In fact i realized that there are people whose predicaments are far more devastating than my own. And so i started writing short stories about these people. Without the intention of showing them to anybody. But one thing led to another and soon I found myself trying to write in a way that could make people relate to what i expressed. Why? I guess I wanted to communicate. (Probably why i've been blabbing every chance i get since i joined WOL! Sorry for that?) It was my way of saying: "Hey, you're not alone! You matter!"
Naturally my poor skills and limitations weren't enough to satisfy my thirst. And that led me to discover poetry and literature and the joys of reading! And the things i read inspired me and kindled more writing!So writing led to reading and vice versa! Yet another perk! I still haven't showed my stuff to anyone and i don't know if i ever will. WOL is my first and perhaps only attempt to do so. It's an excellent outlet and I'm glad I found it!
Anyway, the point is, poetry alleviated my pain and brought me hope. Hope that maybe ordinary people, the kind of people that go unnoticed, the people that Iife has wronged, the people that the world eats up and spits out can be heroes, that maybe they can win. Just for once! Even if it's in my fantasies and even if they never find out. Regardless of whether my writing is good or bad, whether I'll ever show it to anyone, poetry served it's purpose!

Thank you WOL, and thank you Graham for starting this conversation!

Tue, 2 Oct 2018 10:58 am
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Big Sal

Wow, this thread has taken new life instead of being forgotten like all the others - that's a great thing.

Heroes of a different cloth eh, Mae?

I always tell my wife to paint her pain away and I'll stick to writing. Damn, it is the best when you can write out pain and have it understood, agreed upon, and liked by more than yourself. It's the validation from peers that lends itself to encouragement in our endeavors, and does not eat away at our emotions any longer. We yearn to write to be heard, and not simply for the sake of screaming to the sky in our pain. It becomes more than a job and more than a habit - it becomes us. We become what we always wanted to be, and write what we always wanted to write about.

Vampires didn't wear capes until Bram Stoker, and heroes don't wear them either. Sometimes those that have the most to say will say the least. Sometimes our pain manifests itself on the page in ways that others can relate.

Hope my rant didn't bore anyone to death just yet.
Even if you're not in pain in any way, still keep writing, that shit is fun.?
Tue, 2 Oct 2018 02:37 pm
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Oh, thank God somebody wrote a comment as long as mine! I was starting to feel a little self conscious! ? Big Sal i absolutely agree, you don't have to be in pain to write or express yourself in any way. That's an old cliche for which I don't particularly care! Oscar Wilde said (in so many words) that beauty is the thing that inspires art and that pain is the source of ispiration only when it can't be helped. The truth is it can be anything! Whatever works! Beauty, love, joy, humor... Anything that's original and authentic is a worthy contribution even if it talks about the same old things that have been said a million times over before! Like the popular MacCartney song says: "You'd think the people would have had enough of silly love songs![...]Some people might want to fill the world with silly love songs...And what's wrong with that?" Write about what you feel like people! (Let's forget about the word "silly" here, there's nothing silly sbout any product of creative work wherever it's coming from). Big Sal, I'll second your comment and add to it: "Writing Rules!"
Tue, 2 Oct 2018 03:38 pm
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Big Sal

I feel sometimes maybe people may have to wade through and write their angry poetry first to vent their frustrations, and only when they've achieved relative peace of mind can they embark on a journey of true growth and writing improvements with other styles and emotions. A lot of people use poetry to vent anger, and I feel like the emotion that bleeds through an angry poem can turn some people off if it is true, raw, and unfiltered. May not gain many followers or fans, but for the people that can relate - it is a godsend.

Leaves a mind wondering really how many people would be left worse off for the wear without poetry to turn to, either reading it or writing it out. For some, it can be the string that holds the straw on the camel's back.?
Tue, 2 Oct 2018 08:48 pm
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To be honest I hadn't thought of that this way. Maybe cause I'm a little bit still in the "raw" stage of my evolution. (Although I'm confident that some different stuff are on their way!) Aside from my wrting, though sometimes I get the impression that people, especially young ones, worship sorrow and melancholia. And there are people who exploit that. They write angry and sad poetry on purpose, they use big words and a lot of drama, aiming to cause exactly that effect and to ultimately become popular; giving poetry a bad name, not only cheating those who suffer but causing people that are not sad and angry to resent poetry altogether. That's such a shame. Expressing negative emotions is one thing, milking it is another! When it' s authentic it' ok. And it works the other way round too. We tend to consider poetic that any kind of emotionally charged words. Words that, as you said, people vent their frustartion.
The whole issue of this discussion is "poetry as therapy". So just for the sake of argument, let's say that one might wonder, is it really poetry when it only fullfills the therapeutic purpose? Some would say that a sad piece of writing isn't necessarily poetic, just because it' sad. But should anybody have the right to decide that? And isn't there something special and noble in seeing a blanc sheet and feeling the urge to fill it with words even if the words are literal and not particularly artistic? Personally I think it's brave! It's just that life is much more complicated than just "sad-happy", "black-white" and so should poetry be! At the end of the day I guess what you said about unleashing one's anger being the stepping stone towards writing more profound stuff is the answer.
We should nurture the raw because it may be a diamond in the rough waiting to shine. And even if it isn't and it's just the product of pain or the need to cry for help or an effort to reach out we should support it just as much because it's just as valuable and because art is meant for humanity. It' s not supposed solely to express or amuse but to heal too. I don't believe in the old latin saying "ars gratia artis" namely "art for the sake of art".
And yes, poetry can absolutely save lives, for the ones writing it and for the ones reading it.
Wed, 3 Oct 2018 10:39 am
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Wed, 3 Oct 2018 10:53 am
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Big Sal

I just read an article today talking about people that post plagiarized poetry on Instagram, and how some of them get massive amounts of attention (even from famous idiots that could not put two words together). This one guy, I won't say his name to make him any more famous, but he went out of his way to mock poetry on Instagram by doing the exact same thing and writing short, trite poems and ended up getting pretty famous for it.

It's the same story whatever art form it is: modern music, poetry, and everything else you can think of has been tainted my commercial consumerism masked as quality goods. It's bad but kind of dignified to know that actual talent and real poetry has to live underground on a place like Write Out Loud to truly survive and thrive. Poetry lovers beware, right? Not everything you see on TV or the Internet is real.?
Wed, 3 Oct 2018 07:29 pm
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That's a pretty rotten thing to do. You can get pretty popular by quoting too if you absolutely have to express yourself but have no words of your own! But of course It's all about the fame and easy money! When you go public you owe it to yourself and others to keep your virtue and, in my opinion, humility. (I mean come on people, a little modesty didn't hurt anybody!) For one I feel much safer riding the underground "train" among common people like myself, in a safe, non judgmental, yet not lacking well-founded, much-sought criticism environment, putting my work out there just for the sake of testing it's quality and getting comfortable with exposure. Sure I'd like it if I ever published anything but for reasons that have nothing to do with recognition and money. So here I'd like to quote (and not plagiarize!) a line from a poem written by the world renouned Greek poet K.P.Kavafy: "Fear the grandeurs, oh soul of mine."
Thu, 4 Oct 2018 01:21 pm
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Big Sal

Excellent point Mae.

I'd rather be well-known and appreciated by a few, than to be mindlessly worshiped or followed by a thousand.

True feedback is invaluable, just like a well-written review. Real talent is usually underground anyways. It just goes to show really how much some people care about the art they make when they are willing to forsake a life of money and fame to keep doing what they love. That's where the dreams rest at, not come to die.

People can think what they want, but real talent is pretty hard to find. Not like it grows on trees. Great talking with you.?
Thu, 4 Oct 2018 02:09 pm
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Great talking to you too! ? Write on! ?
Thu, 4 Oct 2018 06:12 pm
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Alan Pascoe

An interesting question Mae, but as you're aware it goes beyond therapy. Perhaps like therapy, we don't know what we're thinking until we hear what we say or what we write.

Though we don't possess a word for it, we're born with a sense of loss. Value it.
Conflict is inherent within language. Value that too.

When as a writer we place one word against another it becomes an external argument. That argument becomes a dialogue. Like a writers' journey - it never ends.
I'm sure you know all this.

The argument will be distilled into questions we can't answer. That's how one begins - isn't it? With a question one can't answer.

It may not even be a question. It could be anger, or fear, or something unnameable.
The important thing is to get 'black on white,' as Zola said.

Write against the ethos of the narrative. Shane McGowan did it with Fairytale of New York. (Youtube)
Then something magical can happen.

We write so we are not alone. This is perhaps an illusion.
Study writers and artists who have something to say.

European and South American writers have more interesting things to say than English writers. It comes from their history, their culture.
They write without a horizon. They take more risks than English writers, except Jeanette Winterson who has one of the greatest literary minds in Europe.

Despite what Plath wrote, part of her tragedy was she wrote and wrote and wrote - it's never really about oneself.

Eventually she may have left her hurt self and written other novels.

One goes beyond therapy to a place for which one has no vocabulary. Then it becomes exciting.

I'm sure you have better perceptions than these.

Very good wishes with your work.

Alan Pascoe

Sat, 6 Oct 2018 11:03 pm
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Thank you Alan.
Incidentally I have found that I like and can relate a lot to South American writers, like Marquez for example. And I mostly like Europeans and Americans. Very few British...

I believe poetry should have NO "shoulds". It can come from humor, love or joy, like I said earlier, and I stand by it. But at the end of the day I can't help but admit that there is nothing more powerful than trauma. The inherent loss, as you put it. The very fact that we are born only to die and the fact that we know it. That's the inherent loss. It can't be beaten.
No matter what I said above my poetry usually comes from the bad place inside me. And that includes even the pieces that sound "jolly", if they even exist, I'm too deep in the eye of the storm to see clearly...

I just wonder, what if poetry is not the craft of precision with words, good tempo and clever rhyming?
What if it's not a craft at all? What if you don't have the answers to your questions? What if you don't even know how to pose your questions? What if instead of narrating or trying to placate the superior forces that ride you and run your life or trying to alleviate the pain using that imaginary solution as ointment? What if you just embrace the unfathomable and put yourself in all the wrong words? I'm afraid doing that may give the wrong impressions, I fear one may be running the risk of being deemed as odd, deliberately incomprehensible and because of that pretentious...

I don't know. I can argue all day long but in the end I can't escape the chaos inside of me. Whether I try to harness it and put it in a tidy little box,trim the edges and make it nice and even and pleasing to the ear and tongue and eye or I just let it out the way it comes naturally and disorderly, either way it comes from that little hole, a wound, as most would describe it. You called it loss.
And no matter how much I write the hole never seems to heal, the questions do not get answered and the fantasy of a solutions remains just that, a fantasy.

Sure I can use it to escape for a little while but I find that fantasies can often go from being one's utopia to being a dystopia. A.k.a hell on earth!

As you see I have no better perceptions. I have no preceptions at all; to be frank I find myself more and more confused as days go by. Always getting a little closer to chaos and further away from any hope of resolution or redemption.
All I know is that I know nothing, as Socrates put it. And that keeps feeding the fire. It's what sends me searching. The never ending journey.

As for Sylvia Plath, I haven't read a lot of her work mostly because I'm not strong enough, I can't take her poetry. It stings too much...
As for the solitude part, I agree. We write so that we don't feel alone. Even when one starts to write their own thoughts on their own lives they sooner or later find themselves in need of an audience, or reader. Even if it's a fictional one, a voice in one's head.
Thu, 11 Oct 2018 08:30 pm
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Alan Pascoe

Mae Hi,

Your perceptions are stunning. Anais Nin in her early journals writes... 'In writing confuse yourself for as long as you can, then the text will start talking to you.'

The actual meaning of something is like a riot in the next street which never reaches us. Write about what isn't there.

Look at the paintings of the American painter, Andre Wyeth and you'll understand what I mean. You may know them already.
All art forms are inseparable.

As you're aware, writing is only a beginning, but it is also the unsaid. Meaning is transient - a diversion. Meaning is an owl in a distant wood. Not seen, half imagined.

Perhaps we don't need questions, or answers.
But placing one word against another does, as you know become an obsession. Use it.

I think one should embrace the unfathomable without looking for a reason why. The reason why isn't important.

Pollock did that, do did Jean Rhys and Beethoven.

Why do you have to argue with the chaos inside you? Again use it.

We expect too much of language. I'm not sure we do heal our lives, perhaps for a moment, through our relationship with language and through love.

Change - whatever that is - is a bird that feeds us, then is gone? We don't know it's name. We cannot call it back.

I'm writing a play about Jeanne Moreau. As a child she lived next door to a cinema. When she was ill she used to listen to the soundtrack of movies through her bedroom wall. No images only sounds.

A life imagined which is turned into some kind of narrative. Isn't all writing really stories of the lives of others which we only half hear. But we can make them our own.

Make those stories real to others, which is what Moreau did through her acting and writing. She was rarely satisfied with her work. What she wanted to say was always going to be in the next film, or the one after that.

Mae use the superb talent you possess as a writer to begin a novel or long short story. One should always be working on something.

Use your skill with language to take risks. Writing will bring you loneliness, but one has that anyway. Again it's inherent with language.

You may never escape chaos, Pollock didn't. When you finish a piece of work which means something to you, it gives one some thing nothing else can.
Then of course one has to sell it.

I agree, it's a pity poetry was ever given a name. It began with silence and song. It did not know it's own name. Auden said... 'A lost thing looks for a lost name.'

Begin with pain if you wish to do so. Theodore Roethke, one of Plath's mentors said... 'We start from darkness, pain teaches is little.' Was he right?

More than anything, believe in yourself. Believe in the talent you so obviously possess. Turn that talent into work.

Do you have an idea for a piece of work?

A woman is hurrying across a street. Where is she going? What has she just come from? She holds an object in her hand. What is it?

As you know, writing about the conflict within others allows us to step back - if only for a moment - from our own.

The conflict, the fear, the chaos is universal. It's the starting point of most stories.

You don't need to explain a character away. Their mystery is in what we don't know about them. The mystery becomes the search, the journey.

Good wishes,


Fri, 12 Oct 2018 05:47 pm
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Hi Alan!
Thank you for all your kind words. I'm really moved. I value all your advise and I agree with you on each and every one of the points you made! And you sure gave me a lot of great reading material ad a lot to think about! Thank you for that.

I'd sure like to explore some of your work. How come I can't find your profile on WOL?

Sat, 13 Oct 2018 06:15 pm
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